Wild West Stampede returns to Auburn
Buckin’ bulls and ropin’ cowboys take the spotlight as Wild West Week begins Sunday.
This is the 80th anniversary of the Wild West Stampede, celebrating the heritage and skills of the American cowboy. The celebration of the cowboy way starts Sunday at McCourtney Road Equestrian Center, where the public can watch Jackpot Barrel Racing for free. Jackpot Team Roping goes all day long at Bar7S Arena in Pleasant Grove, and the fun continues Wednesday at Magnussen’s Dodge in Auburn, where the rodeo kickoff party takes place. Rodeo dance parties are planned for Friday and Saturday.
But the big event is the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Rodeo, entering the arena Saturday and Sunday for hours of roping and riding. Audience members can watch bull riders do their best to stay astride a bucking 2,000 pounds of muscle for eight seconds, and can experience the thrill of cowboys working together to rope steers in the Tie Down Roping competition. “Bulldoggers” will wrestle steers to the ground, and saddle bronc riders use strength and stability to ride a bucking horse using only one hand. Even kids get in on the fun with Mutton Bustin’, where they try to stay atop a sheep.
‘Something about that rodeo’
Stampede board President Betty Estep said that even though the Auburn rodeo is small, it has earned a reputation for being a high-quality event. PRCA announcer Steve Kenyon told her he loves the Auburn rodeo for its hometown feel and the fact that the spectators are close to the action.
“I equate it to when I used to go to the Kings years ago,” Estep said. “I was lucky enough to have a friend who had Kings Row tickets. Sitting on Kings Row is way different than sitting in the stadium stands or sitting in the seats up above. It’s like you’re in the game, and that’s what this is like.”
Cowgirl Kirstin Dykes agrees. She’s the 2012 Miss Wild West Stampede, her second year to represent the Stampede at rodeos across the state.
“It’s just like a small, hometown rodeo,” said the 21-year-old Lincoln resident. “It’s just a really good rodeo. They get involved with the crowd. Some rodeos, they just get the rodeo done and over with. We like catering to our spectators.”
A horse rider since before she could walk Dykes enjoys barrel racing, and has competed since high school.
“My mom was riding when she was pregnant with me,” she laughed.
While rodeo is a pretty testosterone-heavy event, Estep is proud that the four-person board of directors for the Wild West Stampede is made up of all women. She said in the future she’d like to have more female events at the rodeo, and that spectators can see local cowgirls compete in barrel racing this weekend and in the local roping competition before the professional rodeo kicks off Saturday.
“One year the women roped way better than the men,” Estep said.
There are 40 bull riders signed up this year, and PRCA cowboys will come from all over the United States and the world to compete. The highest scorers in each event will take home buckles and cash prizes.
Not everybody loves a rodeo
As cowboys, cowgirls and the people who love to watch them compete gear up for Stampede, some animal rights activists decry the perceived abuse of animals at the event.
“The rodeo is the epitome of exploiting animals,” said Marilyn Jasper, a board member of the Humane Society of the Sierra Foothills. While the Humane Society has no official policy of being anti-rodeo, its mission is to stop animal abuse and neglect, a place where rodeo walks a fine line, Jasper said.
“Our culture is changing,” she said. “Things that we accepted as normal, OK, even decades ago are no longer acceptable when it comes to animal abuse or animal neglect.”
Estep countered claims of abuse, saying the Stampede and PRCA are dedicated to ensuring that each animal is in top condition.
“Every animal is inspected before they even are permitted to perform, and they are athletes,” she said. “That’s what people don’t understand. They think they’re so horribly treated, and they’re not.”
Rodeo animals, most often bred for their bucking skills, are treasured animals that cost thousands of dollars, Estep said. Cowboys who put the animals in danger pay hefty fines from PRCA. A professional cowboy does his job in such a way that he and the animal are safe.
Estep pointed to the common misconception of a flank strap – which is tightened to cause an animal to buck – being strapped over an animal’s genitals. The straps, which are most often fleece-lined, are not on the genitals. The rope is to encourage the bull to use its hind legs more in a bucking motion, and if it is too tight the bull will not buck well.
Humane Officer Rosemary Frieborn said that while rodeo events are technically legal, they still exploit animals so that promoters can make a profit. Abuse is well-documented at rodeos, she said.
“If the public just thought it through, animals are docile and peaceful in holding pens,” Frieborn said. “Rodeos cannot make money on nice, calm, sweet animals; thus, they must be ‘stimulated’ or ‘agitated’ to put on a show.”
Frieborn also scoffed at the idea that rodeos are considered a traditional event. In real ranches, she said, bulls would never have been ridden, nor would sheep.
“Any cowhand who jerked a calf to a neck-snapping halt and risked killing or injuring it would have been fired on the spot,” Frieborn said.
The recipient of this year’s Wild West Stampede Legends Award is 83-year-old Auburn rancher Stanley Semas. The Stampede bestows the award on someone who “has spent their life in the saddle” as ranchers, cowhands, trainers, ropers or rodeo supporters, and Semas certainly fits that bill.
He was nominated by daughter Colleen Enks, of Paso Robles, who wrote in her recommendation letter that her father was raised around the dairies and ranches of San Jose, where he was introduced to horses at a very young age. As a young man he spent many a rodeo at the Cow Palace, and was successful at riding good bridle horses, particularly a black gelding he called “Pedro.”
Semas moved to Auburn in 1955, where he expanded his nurse cows business into a full-fledged drive-in dairy on Mt. Vernon Road. When that successful business sold, Semas purchased Semas Ranch, still in operation today. He has been expanding his cattle business since, and continues to live the cowboy life. He built a roping arena where the ropers would dodge tree stumps and bog holes, roping muley cattle by the headlights of parked vehicles, Enk said. All that practice paid off when he took first in team roping at the Grass Valley Fair in the late 1950s. Semas opened a commercial roping arena in 1960.
“It’s an honor to get this award,” said Semas, described by family and friends as a man of few words.
Semas has mentored many cowboys and cowgirls in the Western way of life, including his own children. His son, Aaron Semas, has been a National Finals Rodeo contestant for several years. Semas is married to Sandra and has six children, 14 grandchildren and one great-grandson.
“He has known the benefit of hard word, and his handshake has been his word,” Enk wrote. “He is a quiet guy and not one to have a big conversation, because the way I see it, his actions have been louder than his words. By his example, he has taught not just his children, but many, many people, young and old, who were attracted to his way of life to ride, rope, appreciate a good horse, how to run cattle and to appreciate good livestock, drink a little whisky and laugh.”
Wild West Week
Jackpot Barrel Racing
When: Sunday, April 22. 8 a.m. timed runs; 10 a.m. racing starts
Where: McCourtney Road Equestrian Center, 2086 McCourtney Road, Lincoln
Cost: Free to public
Jackpot Team Roping
When: All-day event starts at 10 a.m. Sunday, April 22
Where: Bar7S Arena, 7265 S. Brewer Road, Pleasant Grove
Cost: Free to public
Magnussen’s Ram Rodeo Kickoff Party & Wrangler Kids Dummy Roping
What: Saloon by Auburn Area Chamber of Commerce; Chuckwagon Grub by Johnsonville Brats
When: 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 25
Where: Magnussen’s Dodge,1901 Grass Valley Highway, Auburn
Cost: Free to public
Valencia Club Ready to Rodeo Dance Party
When: 8 p.m. Friday, April 27 (live music by Branded)
Where: 2162 Taylor Road, Penryn
Cost: $5 cover; 21 and over
Pistol Pete’s Rodeo Dance
When: 9 p.m. Saturday, April 28
Where: Pistol Pete’s, 140 Harrison Ave., Auburn
Gold Country Fairgrounds Events
Saturday and Sunday, April 28 and 29
Tickets: www.wildweststampede.com using PayPal until April 26; $15 adults at the gate, $7 kids 6-11
11 a.m.: Cowboy Corral Trading Post opens
Noon: Arena gates open
1 p.m.: Mutton Bustin’
2 p.m.: PRCA Pro Rodeo
VIP After-Rodeo Party from 5-7 p.m. Saturday, April 28. Live music; free to public.
Cowboy Church at 11 a.m. Sunday; VIP Tent; free to public.